Kestrel is the only daughter of Valorian general Trajan. They live in the province of Herran, formerly a bustling independent nation, invaded, conquered, enslaved and now occupied on orders from the Valorian emperor. The surviving Herrani are slaves, bought and sold at the mercy of the Valorians. As a Valorian woman, Kestrel has two choices in life, she can join the army (which her father very much wants her to do, not for her fighting skills, which are frankly unremarkable, but for her clever mind and affinity for strategy) or marriage. She is uncomfortable with the imperialistic nature of her people, but doesn’t exactly do a lot to voice her discontent either. In fact, though uncomfortable with the enslavement of the Herrani, she ends up buying a Herrani slave at an auction for an enormous sum, and comes to regret it in more ways than one.
Arin is a former Herrani noble, sold into General Trajan’s household as a blacksmith. He correctly senses that Kestrel can be manipulated and soon gains a lot of freedom to move around the estate, and occasionally even to visit the city centre. Arin’s presence at the auction wasn’t a coincidence, and he is working in secret with many other Herrani to overthrow their Valorian oppressors. He never expected to grow so close to a Valorian, but the more time he spends in Kestrel’s presence, the more their attraction grows. What is going to happen when his fight for freedom upsets her entire world?
“The Winner’s Curse” of the title of this book refers to the fact that the winner of an auction having in many ways lost, because whoever places the winning bid, has paid more than what all the other bidders have decided the item is worth. In the case of Kestrel in this book, the bidding escalates incredibly quickly, and she ends up paying a scandalous amount for Arin. That she later comes to regret her purchase in all sorts of other ways, is also part of her curse.
This was a book that I heard about fairly early in 2014, but pretty much discounted because of the silly cover. As the year progressed, the book got very favourable reviews on a number of sites I follow, and it also appeared on several Best of 2014 lists. So when I found it on sale at the end of the year, I bought it, and as I’ve been granted an ARC of the second book in the series, I figured it was time to finally see what all the fuss was about.
The rest of my really rather long review here.